The New York Times Book Review on Nut Country

December 15, 2015
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From Sam Tanenhaus’s review of Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy for the New York Times Book Review:

Whenever we’re in danger of forgetting that the modern Republican Party is captive to a movement, one new excitement or another will jolt us back to reality — whether it is a trio of high-flying presidential candidates who’ve collectively served not a single day in elective office or an uprising by congressional Jacobins giddily dethroning their own leader. Each new insurrection feels spontaneous even as it revives antique crusades to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, “get rid” of the Supreme Court or — most persistent of all — rejuvenate the Old South. Half a century before Rick Perry indicated secession might be an option for Texas, John Tower, the state’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction, accepted the warm greeting of his new colleague, Senator Richard Russell, the Georgia segregationist, who reportedly said, “I want to welcome Texas back into the Confederacy.”

Tower is one of the more statesmanlike figures in “Nut Country,” Edward H. Miller’s well-researched and briskly written account of Dallas’s transformation from Democratic stronghold to “perfect test kitchen” of a new politics of Republican protest that combined the libertarian cry for “freedom” with the states’ rights ­model of constitutional order.

A go-getting paradise with an economy enriched by government contracts (aerospace and defense), Dallas might seem a curious place for anti-Beltway insurgency. But dependency bred anxiety, and “wealth and fear” took form together, as the journalist Theodore H. White observed in 1954. The tide of newcomers, many from the Midwest, inhaled the fumes of “Texanism,” according to White “a synthetic faith that lets them oppose all the controls and exactions of the federal government in Washington as an invasion of sacred and immemorial rights, while at the same time providing, with its frontier and vigilante memories, a complete answer to the newer problems of minorities, labor and the complexities of city living.”

One of the new Dallas Republicans was Bruce Alger, a Princeton graduate and disciple of Ayn Rand, elected to the House of Representatives in 1954. Initially an Eisenhower supporter, he declined to sign the notorious “Southern manifesto,” with its defiant sneer at civil rights, but soon became an “artful champion of Jim Crow.” In November 1960, four days before the presidential election, he led a group of 300 protesters who converged on a downtown Dallas hotel and accosted Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson when they entered the lobby. Television cameras captured the moment — along with Alger holding aloft a placard that read “L.B.J. Sold Out to Yankee Socialists” — helping to plant the image of Dallas as a “city of hate.”

To read more about Nut Country, click here.

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